No One in Congress Is Safe After the Debt Fight

Dysfunction in Washington has driven public anger to the highest level since Watergate--and it may stay there for the next several elections

protestor - Mark Wilson.jpg

Reuters

Here's your homework for today: Go to the Government Printing Office's website and order the current edition of the Congressional Pictorial Directory, which contains color photographs of every member of the 112th Congress. Save it, and after the 2016 elections, look back through the guide and see how many of this year's members are still in the House and Senate. My guess is that the number will be shockingly low. Many members will lose in primaries or general elections in 2012, 2014, and 2016; some will retire; and some will seek another office. But I'll bet that the attrition rate will be remarkably high.

Over the course of history, Congress and the White House have seen highs and lows. Times that can be remembered with pride and other times when politicians failed to meet the American people's expectations. Right now, we are at a very, very low point--the worst I've seen since I moved to Washington in September 1972. Never in my memory have both parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue appeared as dysfunctional as they do today. The stakes are so high and the performance is so utterly disappointing. The goals of most of the debt-ceiling proposals being debated are so modest that victory would really be a defeat in terms of what needs to be done.

Several days ago, I was stopped repeatedly, including once by a security guard in my office building and three times by different people at the grocery store. All were seeking some explanation as to what was happening with the debt-ceiling debate and hoping that I might be able to provide some assurance that things were going to work out OK. In some of these encounters, I tried to come up with a hopeful response; other times, I just threw up my hands.

That same day, one of my brothers-in-law e-mailed me a long and involved joke about a man who was born with a silver screw in his stomach instead of a belly button. As he grew up, he furtively searched for a way to have the screw removed; finally, at a monastery in Nepal, he found a monk who could make it happen. To make a long story short, a giant screwdriver appears out of a purple mist, removes the screw, and disappears out the window. Jubilant, the man jumps up, and his rear end falls off. The moral of the story is, "Don't screw around with things you don't understand--you can lose your butt." Appended to the joke was the notation that Congress is screwing around with things it doesn't understand, such as the economy, and that's why we are all losing our butts. Lawmakers may not realize they are becoming national jokes, but they are.

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Charlie Cook is editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal.

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